Clips or flats? That is an issue every mountain biker faces. There are pros and cons for each and that is a heated debate. It usually comes down to personal preference and what type of riding you do. The past couple of winters and while taking skills clinics I have switched to flats for the slick leaf surfing in order to work on my flat pedal technique. This year, instead of searching the internet, I decided to ask some friends for tips to accelerate my learning.
Here is what Lindsey Richter, Ladies Allride Director of Inspiration, badass lady and at the sharp end of getting more women on bikes said:
I have ridden clipped in since 1996 so learning to ride and teach in flat pedals has been quite the challenge. I found myself pulling my foot straight up and off the pedals while climbing when I first switched to flats. Then I also found my feet would fly off during technical descents. It really showed me how much I was relying on clips and maybe not paying close attention to what my feet were doing. The feet are a very important component to mountain biking. Much like other sports, we find balance from our feet. On a mountain bike, we initiate a lot of moves from the feet while also controlling traction and pressure when we need to make the bike heavy and light for getting over obstacles. With that said, here is a list of things to think about while riding flat pedals:
1. Placement of foot on pedal is a little different than clipped in.
With clips, we tend to have more of the ball of the foot on the pedal. With flats, the toes should hang over the pedals a bit with more of your foot on the pedals so you can “claw” the pedals when you need to pull the bike up into you with your feet. I line the front of the pedal up with the bottom lace of my shoe to help me make sure my feet are securely on the pedals.
2. Active feet while downhilling.
It’s important to push down into the pedals with your feet to stay active on the bike and to keep your feet connected. I find when I become passive and don’t deliberately push into the pedals with my feet in technical or bumpy terrain, I will fly off the pedals easily. It takes time to learn when to pump, but if you just stay active and pump your feet into the pedals constantly in technical terrain the bike will be more responsive beneath you and the feet will stay connected to the bike much better than if you just sit there and let your feet flop around. I think of leading with my heels when I pump my feet on the downhills. That allows my feet to be braced against the pedals for stable downhilling because when the heel drops towards the ground a little lower than the toes, that gives me a platform to brace my feet and legs so I can be active and stable without feeling like I might go over the bars in steeper terrain.
3. Scoop and claw while climbing.
It’s easy to fly off the pedals when climbing in flats, especially if you’re used to climbing clipped in. I have found I need to be more mindful of slightly curling my toes around the pedals and pushing back on the pedals with toes pointed down as the pedal goes between the bottom of the stroke back to the top. This allows me to stay more connected while pedalling and it also allows me to “scoop” the rear end up while climbing technical features. I’m used to pulling straight up on my pedals when I need extra power, or to lift my rear wheel, but in flats, that’s not possible so the scooping motion takes the place of pulling up in clips.
4. Lifting the rear wheel with flats.
This is a great skill to practice that will let you know quickly whether or not you understand how to scoop the bike up with your feet on flats. Coast slowly in a neutral position. With your pedals side by side (level pedals) stomp both feet down on the pedals to load your suspension (or put weight downward if you don’t have suspension). After you stomp down, the next thing that happens is the bike springs back up into you. While the bike is on it’s way back up after you’ve stomped your feet, point your toes towards the ground, push back with your feet on the pedals, put a little pressure in your hands on the bars with a slight lean forward to release your weight off the rear wheel and bend your knees to pull the rear wheel up to you. In more simpler terms: Stomp, point, scoop back with feet, push hands into bars, bend knees to pull up.
Happy flat pedal riding! -Lindsey
(Photos: Liv Ladies AllRide)